Swedish prosecutors say they will question WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over sexual assault allegations inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London.
Mr Assange has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy since being granted political asylum in the summer of 2012. He has previously offered to be interviewed inside the embassy building, and Ecuadorian authorities had been pushing Swedish authorities as part of their efforts to end the impasse, but prosecutors had previously insisted in speaking to him in Sweden.
Lead prosecutor Marianne Ny said time restrictions have forced them to change their position – under Swedish law the state of limitations for some of alleged crimes would expire in August.
In a statement, Ny said:
“My view has always been that to perform an interview with him at the Ecuadorian embassy in London would lower the quality of the interview, and that he would need to be present in Sweden in any case, should there be a trial in the future. Now that time is of the essence, I have viewed it therefore necessary to accept such deficiencies in the investigation and likewise take the risk that the interview does not move the case forward.”
Assange’s lawyer Per Samuelson said he welcomed the move, but was “irritated” that it had taken so long.
“This is what we have been asking for. We are happy and we see it as evidence that we were right all the time, and the prosecutor was in the wrong. I am convinced the prosecutor has been ordered to reopen the investigation. I have spoken to Julian and he welcomes this because he wants to clear his name. But he is also irritated because he believes this should have been done earlier.”
After years of claiming it would be unlawful to speak to Assange in UK Sweden, facing UN censure, now says it is perfectly legal after all.
— WikiLeaks (@wikileaks) March 13, 2015
Ms Ny also said she made a request to Assange’s legal team to take a DNA sample as part of her investigations into the alleged crimes.
Two Swedish women said they were sexually assaulted by the WikiLeaks founder during a visit to Stockholm in August 2010. The charges relate to allegations of non-consensual unprotected intercourse and include one count of unlawful coercion, two counts of sexual molestation and one count of rape.
Assange and his army of loyal supporters bitterly refute the claims, smearing the women as “uncreditable” and accusing them of being involved in a “honey-trap” conspiracy masterminded by US intelligence agencies.
Assange was arrested in Britain in December 2010 by Scotland Yard’s extradition unit, following an arrest warrant issued via Interpol in November. He gave himself up to London police and was remanded in custody.
His lawyers argued successfully for bail and he was freed after his supporters paid £240,000 in cash and sureties.
His lawyers then began their long fight against the extradition order, saying he is a victim of a “mismatch” between English and Swedish law, and that there would be risk of a “denial of justice” if he is tried for rape in Sweden. These arguments rumbled on until May 2012, when the Supreme Court ruled he should be extradited to face questioning – and his challenge on this ruling was rejected in June.
He then applied for political asylum at Ecuador, which was granted in August, over fears that his “human rights” would be violated if he was extradited. He began his stake-out inside the embassy after being denied a “safe passage” to Ecuador by UK authorities who said they had to uphold the Supreme Court ruling. It appears neither the Ecuadorian authorities nor the Australian campaigner expected him to still be living inside the embassy almost three years later.
Assange became a hero to anti-censorship campaigners around the world in 2010 after releasing secret video footage and thousands of US diplomatic cables about Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was also criticised for revealing details of the sources of those who the US intelligence agencies where in contact with.